Document Type


Publication Date



Typically, the set of elements defining a crime comprise what may be called the paradigm of liability for that offense: An actor is criminally liable if and only if the state proves all these elements. The paradigm of an offense, however, does not always determine criminal liability. Even where all the elements of the paradigm are proven, rules and doctrines create exceptions that affect criminal liability. Some exceptions, such as insanity, duress, and law enforcement authority, can exculpate an actor even though his conduct and state of mind satisfy the paradigm for the offense charged. Such exculpating exceptions are grouped and analyzed as defenses. Other exceptions inculpate actors who do not satisfy the paradigm for the offense charged. Such inculpating exceptions may be termed instances of imputed elements of an offense. Some writers have suggested that the imposition of liability absent a required element of the offense is illogical, immoral, or perhaps unconstitutional. But just as there are many defenses - exceptions that exculpate despite satisfaction of the paradigm - there are also many common and well-established exceptions that inculpate despite the absence of a required element of the offense definition. If, for example, an actor causes another person to engage in illegal conduct, a required element of conduct of the offense may be properly imputed to the actor. Similarly, the requisite culpable state of mind may properly be imputed to an actor if he would have had the culpable state of mind but for his voluntary intoxication. These familiar results follow from special rules governing complicity and voluntary intoxication. Like the defenses of insanity, duress, and law enforcement authority, which also generally appear outside the definition of an offense, these rules of imputation alter the requirements for criminal liability. Legislators could conceivably include all inculpatory exceptions to a particular paradigm within the definition of the offense. Inculpatory exceptions, however, often embody principles that are independent of any particular offense. Such general principles of inculpation provide an alternative basis for liability; they justify liability in the absence of every element of the offense. These general principles make it unnecessary to refer to the doctrines of imputation in the definition of each offense. Recognition of the conceptually distinct group of inculpating exceptions not only reveals the functional similarity of a variety of inculpatory rules and doctrines but also raises a crucial theoretical issue in each instance of imputation. If the minimum requirements for an offense have been defined in its paradigm, why should one of these required elements be eliminated in a particular case? All instances of imputed elements, while they may be founded upon reasonable grounds for imposing liability, permit deviation from the previously defined minimum requirements for a given offense. At the very least, such deviation requires an explanation. Defenses - exceptions that redound to the defendant's benefit - are supported by well-developed and rational explanations. Can we also articulate sound theoretical and practical reasons supporting the well-established inculpating exceptions? The rules and doctrines that impute required elements have no common name to draw them together, as do defenses, and, perhaps for this reason, have rarely been viewed as a group. Having defined instances of imputation as a conceptual group, however, one may ask whether there is an identifiable and consistent set of principles that governs the imputation of definitional elements. Are the rules governing such imputation consistent with their rationales? Do doctrines or rules with similar rationales operate in properly analogous ways to produce consistent results? These are the inquiries undertaken in this Article.


jurisprudence, criminal defenses, imputation, mens rea, elements of a crime

Publication Title

Yale Law Journal

Publication Citation

93 Yale L. J. 609 (1984)